Short pants appeared at about the same times the movies did in the early 20th century. The use of shorts in costuming has varied over time. At times movie costuming seems to have reflected standard dress or social-class appropriateness. At other times we seem to note differences between costuming and popular dress. Here of course we are addressing films with contemprary settings. One problem we have in condidering this issue is we do not know how costuming decessions were made. We have not yet found an assessment by film historians on movie costuming. Of course the primary interest in movie costuming is fashionable women's clothing. The subject of how children were costumed as far as we know is not a topic which has inspired scholarly assessment. This is an important issue with HBC because it affects to what extent we can use movies and television as a source of information on contemporary fashions.
Short pants appeared at about the same times the movies did in the early 20th century. We see boys mostly wearing kneepants and knickes in ealy films. Short pants began to appear after World War I in the 1920s. This of course was the golden age of silent films. Unfortunately silent films re not nearly as well known as sound films or talkies as they were first called. Many silent films have been lost, further limiting their use in our discussion here.
The use of shorts in costuming has varied over time. Here we have just begun our assessment. I think at first the costuming in flims reflected actual popular trends. It seems by the 1930s, however, that short pants in some films began to take on a image role. Often boys from rich families were shown wearing short pants. In some cases they were used to costume boys whose characters were spoiled rich kids. This began to change in the 1940s by which time boys were not commonly pictured wearing short pants, especially by the late 1940s. This was especially the case in the 1950s. American boys were almost always costume in long pants. Although the fashions conventions were not as extreme as suggested by the movies, it was generally true that most Amerucan boys in the 1950s wore long pants. There are countless examples. One good example is the Hitchcock film, "The Man Who Knew to Much" (1956). Interestingly the film which perhaps best portrays late 1950s/early 1960s fashions is "Sand by Me" (1986), although it is in fact a historical depiction. Another good example is "The Birds" (1963). This continued to be the case even in the 1970s and 80s, however, when boys were very commonly wearing shorts. It is not clear to us why this shift in popular fashion was not relected in movie costuming.
At times movie costuming seems to have reflected standard dress or social-class appropriateness. At other times we seem to note differences between costuming and popular dress. Thus there are times when movies seem to reflect popular fashion realtively accurately and other times they do not. Thus the period and individual film needs to be considered when assessing the accuracy of film depictions. One question which emerges is why have so few American boys costumed in short panrs since the 1930s. This was probably reasonably accurate in the 1950s, but has not been since the 1960s.
Here of course we are addressing films with contemprary settings. Histirical seetings are a whole different subject. Accuaracy here involved historical research. Some film makes bothered with this, others just guessed. Thus films with historical settings vary greatly in accuracy. Much more useful are films with contemprary settings.
We believe that with many early films, children just showed up in theor own clothes. Perhaps a child actor was costumed if the film requited it,but many of the children in early films probably just wore their own lothes. This probably began to hange in the 1920s, although film budgets were undoubtedly a factor. Gradually costuming became increasingly important. One problem we have in condidering this issue is we do not know how costuming decessions were made. We have not yet found an assessment by film historians on movie costuming. Of course the primary interest in movie costuming is fashionable women's clothing. The subject of how children were costumed as far as we know is not a topic which has inspired scholarly assessment. We believe that a number of factors were involved. It seems that in the 1920s and 30s the desire to costume children as sweet and innocent was in vogue, I think to appeal to mothers. By the 1940s I think movie makers had begun to realize that choldren and teen agers were important movie goers as well. To what extent this affected costuming I am not sure, but child charactrs seem to be more plainly dressed beginning in the 1940s. This was certainly the case by the 1970s when it was probbly important for chikld and teen characters to fdress in hip, trendy clothes. As we say, however, we are not sure to what extent such thoughts actually entered into costuming decessions.
Movies are not the only media assoviated with this discussions. We also need to cosider plays, television, and print media. HBC has noted several television, movie, and other media in America during the 1950s and 60s that addressed the issue of boys wearing short pants suits. Interestingly, boys did appear on American television wearing short pants during the late 1940s and early 1950s. By te mid 1950s, however, as sea-change occurred. American boys were suddenly only pictured as wearing long pants--with only a few exceptions. The Leave It to Beaver may well be the television episode that most Americans remember that addresses the issue of boys wearing short pants suits. It was not, however, the only series that addressed the topic or the only media. HBC also wonders if the impact was not more important on the parents who saw the show than the boys.
This is an important issue with HBC because it affects to what extent we can use movies and television as a source of information on contemporary fashions.
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